Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: What Racing Is

It’s definitely not spring in my neck of the woods, but it’s time for another trip around the sun and hundreds upon hundreds of trips around the track.

The first lap goes by fast, but it seems like there are so many laps ahead for so many drivers; so much racing to be had.

And it’ll be over before we know it.

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The NASCAR Cup Series roars to life today. Every lap, every win, every milestone and every disappointment are, for these last too-quiet few minutes, still ahead. Everything is a possibility. Everything.

And it will seem like it’s over too soon.

When the engines go quiet again, all of those moments will be in the past. For better or for worse, 2024 will be etched into the history books, trophies claimed, championships won, memories made.

But that’s the future and this column is about history. Some of it just seems like only yesterday, some not so long ago.

But let’s talk about history for a minute. What is it, anyway? This sport is more — so, so much more — than wins and top fives and titles.

Not that those things don’t count. I like looking at racing by the numbers. You can pick apart a lot of races and seasons and careers with numbers and build them back up too. Some numbers tell a story of their own, others are a footnote, and they weave together to make something more than they are on their own.

But racing is about people. Hundreds of drivers have raced in the NASCAR Cup Series alone. Fewer than 10% of them has ever found victory lane. And for every one of them, there are hundreds more who never reached the upper levels, drivers who head out to the local bullring in hobby stocks because they want to drive fast and turn left and forget about the rest of the world for a couple of hours.

Hundreds more work on the cars, often toiling in relative anonymity, making them go faster and turn left-er and sound angrier.

There are owners and sponsors and officials. Sit down with an assortment of any of the above and ask them about the same event — every one of them will tell you a different story as seen through different eyes. And none of them are wrong.

There’s me, and other writers, who get to tell those stories, to make the old new again and the new relevant. We hold the sport in our hands and have the responsibility to treat it with respect and care. We make sure nobody is forgotten.

And there’s you. Fans have their own stories, their own part in this sport and everything it has been and will be. No driver is racing without someone, somewhere, cheering them on, hoping for a win or a miracle. 

I went home to Charlotte (I live in New Hampshire and was born here, but Charlotte is home in a way my home state can’t ever be) for this year’s NASCAR Hall of Fame inductions. This year’s inductees included seven-time champion driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus alongside Donnie Allison, the final member of the famed-and-feared Alabama Gang to be enshrined.
Also inducted that night were a kid who grew up in a trailer park, talking to potential sponsors with a maturity beyond his tender years to try and fund a career in off-road vehicles and was as happy to see his friends win (and celebrated with toilet paper. So much toilet paper.) as he was when he won his 83 Cup races; a mechanic who drove all night and slept in his car for a chance at working for a top team and who, in a moment of frustrated bravado, took over driving duties in a Cup car during a test session, only to promptly crash it; and a driver who helped many more young hopefuls get a start and is credited by a multi-time Cup champion for his making it so far.

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A driver who used to swap identities with another future NASCAR driver as kids and sign each other’s autographs. A crew chief who flirted with the rulebook and flaunted its weaknesses. An Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year who would finish in the top 10 in Cup races like clockwork.

You could stop at the numbers and be fascinated. But if you get to know the people, you know racing.

Racing is life, and sometimes death. A generation of NASCAR fans have never seen a fatal accident, a testament to NASCAR’s efforts to improve safety for drivers and crews. 

But those who understand the sharp, poignant pain of waiting for news only to hear that the cost of the sport can be impossibly high have also felt what it means to be part of a community that closes ranks around its own and grieves together as one. And they make sure nobody forgets the person who paid that price.

Racing is family. Generations of families have worked in the garage and driven the cars. Fathers have said to young daughters and sons, “Come sit here with me for a minute, and watch this. See him? That’s the King, Richard Petty,” they say, or “That’s the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt,” or “That’s Jimmie Johnson, who won five championships in a row.” And they say, “See that one? Right there, in that red car? He hasn’t won yet, but he could win today. I believe in him.” 

And the sons and daughters watch and hear the stories, choose their heroes and start all over again with sons and daughters of their own. 

Individual races and results fade as they slip into memory, but people are unforgettable. You’ll read about races and results and numbers. You’ll know winners and champions. But also know the underdogs, the men and women who never stand in the spotlight, the fans in the stands. 

As the years slip by, the names and faces change, the legends are remembered and the stories are told. And so, nobody is forgotten.

As the new season begins, there are a hundred thousand stories waiting to be told. Tell them. Tell them all. That’s how they become real history.

It might have happened many years ago, or a decade ago at Daytona or Darlington or Martinsville. When we remember the stories, it seems like Only Yesterday.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Joshua Farmer

Now these are the types of articles a NASCAR writer SHOULD be writing–not those calling for LESS racing.

Bill B

Not spring in my neck of the woods either, but the start of NASCAR sure warms up my heart. I consider it the unofficial start of spring.

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